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The .NET world according to Microsoft

This first in a two-column series takes a look at .NET's basic building blocks.

The Web Services Advisor
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The .NET world according to Microsoft
When it comes to Web services, there are essentially two world-views: Microsoft's and everyone else's. Microsoft's world-view, of course, is called .NET and while most people have heard of it, its exact outlines are often fuzzy -- so fuzzy, in fact, that a TechTarget survey found that under 10% of respondents even understand what .NET is. (Click here for more information about the survey.)

To bring .NET into focus, this week I'll start a two-part series about the architecture. This column takes a look at .NET's basic building blocks, while the next one will look at some of the architecture's more controversial aspects, including its Passport technology and new TrustBridge technology.

A look at the basics
For a start, .NET is not a drastic departure from Web services -- it's simply Microsoft's version of the technology. So the roles of UDDI, XML, SOAP, and other basic protocols are essentially no different in the Microsoft view of the world than in the rest of the Web services world.

How those services are used and built, though, differs in .NET from the rest of the world. And there's the rub. In theory, when you build a Web service, you should be able to pick and choose among technologies and vendors, assembling a "best-of-breed" suite of development platforms, servers, security and other tools in order to deliver your service. With .NET that's not really the case: In essence, Microsoft offers a soup-to-nuts approach with .NET, in which every part of the process, and every piece of hardware and software comes from Microsoft and is based on Windows. In fact, cynical observers might believe that Microsoft's head-first jump into Web services via .NET is nothing more than an attempt to shore up Windows in the face of a Web services architecture in which protocols like SOAP, UDDI, and XML could conceivably make an underlying operating system irrelevant.

Whether you believe that, or whether you instead believe that .NET is Microsoft's coherent strategy for making it easier for developers and users to achieve a kind of universal connectivity, you need to know about the core of .NET. So here is the current lineup of what .NET is and how it works, according to Microsoft.

The building blocks of .NET
In the Microsoft vision, there are four primary building blocks of .NET:

  • Developer tools, including Microsoft Visual Studio .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework;
  • Servers, including .NET Enterprise Servers and the .NET Server Family;
  • XML-based Web services, which are the applications themselves, such as the Microsoft MapPoint .NET, a modular Web service that can be integrated into other applications and Web sites; and
  • Smart clients, which are the devices that run the Web services, and can be anything from a PC to a PocketPC, to the Xbox gaming console. Not surprisingly, they all run some version of Windows.

In the rest of this column, we'll take a closer look at each.

Developer tools The centerpiece of Microsoft's developer tools is Visual Studio .NET, which allows developers to use a variety of languages including Microsoft's Visual Basic .NET, C++ .NET, and Visual C# .NET to build .NET services. Notably missing from the lineup, of course, is Java -- no surprise, since Microsoft has all but abandoned its support for Java. Java developers who do want to develop for .NET can use Visual J# .NET, the beta of which has just been released. (Note: For more information about Visual Studio, head to, and for information about Visual J# .Net, go to Also part of the tools is the .NET Framework, required to build and run Web services. [Editor's Note: For more .NET resources, be sure to also visit the SearchVB .NET Info Center.]

Servers Microsoft has several server product lines that support .NET: Windows 2000 Servers and .NET Enterprise Servers, and the upcoming Windows .NET Server Family. In essence, the Windows 2000 Servers and .NET Enterprise Servers are nothing new, and to a certain extent merely extend existing server software, with an eye toward supporting .NET and XML. Of them, the Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000, which serves XML-based business processes, is particularly relevant, but to one degree or another, most of Microsoft's server line supports NET. The Windows .NET Server family, on the other hand, was designed specifically for .NET and so will greater . NET support. It's currently in beta 3, includes the .NET Framework built into it, and integrates with other .NET technologies such as Microsoft Passport.

XML-based Web services These, of course, are the Web service applications themselves. After an initial flurry of announcements indicating that Microsoft was going full-bore into developing consumer-level .NET services such as stock alerts and similar services, it's now unclear where it plans to go with developing .NET services itself. One of few functioning Web services is the MapPoint .NET service -- a useful if run-of-the-mill service that lets you find maps and driving directions, and that, for a price, can be integrated into a Web site using .NET. You can try it out at

Smart clients In the Microsoft world-view, Windows will run on everything from cell phones to PDAs to gaming consoles, to kiosks -- in fact, anything that has any intelligence built into it. And the plan is that those "smart client" devices will be .NET capable. In the long run, the most interesting of these devices won't be computers -- it may be your refrigerator, toaster or car. Microsoft is pushing Windows XP Embedded, a "componentized" version of the operating system designed to run on any kind of intelligent device. So .NET services could connect all of your home appliances into larger networks of retail stores, automobiles, gaming consoles and more...think of it as .NET everywhere.

About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at

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